One of the most commonly unnoticed and, thus, undiagnosed diagnoses is Dysgraphia, a diagnosis involving the impairment (physically and cognitively) with written expression. Here we explore the definition of this diagnosis, the symptoms one can look out for, and how it is treated.
So what exactly is Dysgraphia?
A recent study conducted by The National Center for Biotechnology Information stated the prevalence of dysgraphia is, “between 10% and 30% of children experience difficulty in writing.” According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America, “Dysgraphia is a learning disability which involves impaired ability to produce legible and automatic letter writing and often numeral writing, the latter of which may interfere with math. Dysgraphia is rooted in difficulty with storing and automatically retrieving letters and numerals.” Like several other learning differences, dysgraphia can stand alone or can go hand in hand with one or more learning disabilities. Common morbidity presents itself in learners who are diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia and executive dysfunction, just to name a few.
What symptoms are paired with Dysgraphia?
One of the first signs that a learner is struggling with writing is noticeable in their actions. They might refuse to write their name on a worksheet, crumple their papers up or even avoid writing tasks by creating excuses (frequent bathroom breaks, anyone?) In essence, learners with dysgraphia have unclear, irregular, or inconsistent handwriting, often with different slants, shapes, a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as a combination of cursive and print styles. They also tend to write or copy things slowly.
Caregivers or educators may notice symptoms when a child first begins writing assignments in school. Some key signs of dysgraphia to watch for include:
Cramped or improper grip, which may lead to a sore hand/fingers
Difficulty spacing things out on paper or within margins (poor spatial planning)
Varying shades of writing (i.e. darker letters or small tears in their paper due to tight grips/force when writing)
Frequent erasing and/or scratching out
Difficulty organizing their written work
Inconsistency in letter and word formation and spacing
Poor spelling, including unfinished words or missing words or letters
Unusual wrist, body, or paper position while writing
What methods are used to treat Dysgraphia?
“Writing is a skill, not a talent, and this difference is very important because a skill can be improved by practice.”
Robert Stacy McCain, American Journalist
Oftentimes, a combination of personalized Occupational Therapy and Educational Therapy strategies are needed for learners to strengthen the underlying cognitive and motor skills that correlate closely to writing with independence. Occupational Therapists, for example, can address the fine and gross motor skills that are responsible for serving as a foundation for formation, spacing and endurance, while Educational Therapists can provide systematic support to the organization, planning, thought process and the like that goes into fluent written expression. In all honesty, writing and the layers of complexity that it involves may never be easy for dysgraphic learners, but, with the guidance and help of certain specialists, learners can apply differentiated techniques that work best for them so that they are not limited by their challenges.
Understood has created a fantastic list of methods one can use in order to develop dysgraphic learners’ writing skills as well in their blog, 8 Expert Tips on Helping Your Child with Dysgraphia. Assistive technology is also one of the most widely accepted accommodations for learners who struggle with the symptoms of dysgraphia. Potential solutions include, but are not limited to:
Utilize pencil grips and hand strengthening toys (such as stress balls) to encourage a healthy, proper grip.
Provide extra time to take notes and copy material.
Give the learner access to peer or teacher notes to remove the variable of notetaking altogether.
Allow the learner to use an audio recorder or a laptop in class.
Provide paper with larger spaced, different-colored or raised lines to help form letters in the right space.
Allow the use of graph paper (or lined paper to be used sideways) to help line up math problems.
Encourage learners to type and utilize keyboarding when possible/appropriate.
It is better to catch writing challenges early in order to alleviate unnecessary struggles. If you notice your learner struggling with any of the aspects within the writing process, please do not hesitate to reach out to your support ecosystem (educators, Learnfully Specialists, OTs, other caregivers, etc.) because they very well could qualify for a dysgraphia diagnosis or at least get access to techniques that will make their writing lives easier. Silencing one’s voice by not allowing them to communicate in written form can be detrimental to their self-esteem and their ability to express themselves in general. So, please join our mission to empower neurodiversity and seek support if your learner is facing written expression hardships.
The first of the calendar year is near which also means an influx of health and fitness goals are as well. No one can deny the effectiveness of exercise – small steps every day lead to bigger goals and noticeable results. Your brain is a muscle and, just like any other muscle, it requires consistent attention and strengthening. Working out your muscles occasionally might spike your feel-good hormones, but it will not create the momentum you need to truly feel a difference. We acknowledge how difficult it is to kick start a new goal, especially one so seemingly trying as learning how to read or automating multiplication facts. Thus, it is even more important to train your mind and your body to embrace the work that needs to be done in order to achieve the results you desire. You do this by chiseling away at your goals a little bit each day. Once you see change, you feel more motivated to apply yourself and the grit necessary to rise above the challenge and see success. Let’s explore how brain science, mindset, and reduced stress all contribute to the efficacy of intensive instruction.
Neuroplasticity is Alive and Well!
In essence, neuroplasticity is the capacity of neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections and behavior in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage, or dysfunction. The ability to retrain the neural pathways in the brain with consistent and repetitive stimulation (i.e. instruction) has been scientifically proven time and time again. Inch by inch, step by step, we have the ability to rewire the brain to process information in an efficient and optimal manner. Therefore, the plasticity of our brain is the reason why multisensory, evidence-based instruction delivered in an intensive fashion is extremely effective. Implementing sensory-based instruction four or five times a week develops the foundational skills learners require to stand upon in order to apply themselves and reach their full potential.
It is a well-known fact that it takes three weeks of consistent exercise to see change. The same bodes true for brain change as it does physique. School breaks present the ideal opportunity to start an instructional program on the right foot. Working on goals several days a week (with much-deserved recovery built-in) not only expedites progress but also gives learners a surge of confidence and inspiration to carry with them once they return to their school routine. Taking the first step towards a goal might be the hardest, but it opens the door of opportunity to establish a habit and a mindset that will carry one through the adversity one might face in order to reach independence on the other side. Starting an intensive program over a school break will establish the practice as routine, so that, once the learner goes back to school, the after-school sessions are no longer full of fatigue and resentment, but rather with excitement for the gains they know that they can achieve.
Reduce Stress to See Success
There is no denying the uptick in anxiety learners face in the current societal climate. Studies show that our brains cannot take in information effectively if it is consumed by stress and distractions. Utilizing time away from the layers of stress that can be present in a school environment allows a learner to take full advantage of the instruction. Educators are able to make more strides in their learner’s abilities than during a typical school day by implementing instruction over school breaks when anxiety is reduced. Educational therapists and specialists are trained to teach learners strategies that will allow them to cope when faced with stress so that they are able to continue growth once they return to the classroom following a break.
Accelerate Your Learner’s Trajectory
Learners who are significantly behind in reading, comprehension, writing, and math can make significant gains in a reasonably short time if they receive the right sensory-cognitive instruction in an intensive manner with a trained professional. Struggling readers can see years of growth over weeks of multisensory, evidence-based instruction, for example. In a study conducted by ERIC, researchers proved that learners, particularly neurodivergent learners, who receive data-based individualization on an intensive basis experience the most gains in a short period of time allowing them to see and sustain success faster than their peers who receive instruction once or twice a week. To maximize growth, lay the foundation for how to learn intensively over a school break and continue to reinforce the gains made in the weeks to come! In sum, school breaks give the gift of time, so let’s not waste the time we have as caregivers and educators to give our learners the gift of bolstering their neural pathways and diving back into school with not only a stronger skill set but a richer view of their abilities to learn to their potential.
According to an April study of 1500 participants, understood.org found that in the remote learning environment, “nearly three-quarters (72%) of parents have become aware of or noticed their children may have learning challenges or differences.” The pandemic only punctuated the point that parents and educators appreciate insight into their learners’ underlying abilities in order to help differentiate levels of support. In order to uncover a learner’s present levels and wholehearted capabilities, parents and educators must seek inventories, screenings and evaluations administered by professionals in the field. There are very few affordable and accessible resources available that are able to provide pinpointed information into the inner workings of learners’ processing skills and aptitude abilities in areas such as literacy, math, executive functioning and cognition. Then, provide clearly defined recommendations, resources, and referrals to match the learners’ diverse needs. Once you uncover both how your learner is performing and what their overall potential is, you can streamline a plan to expedite progress and strengthen feelings of success. So let’s get started!
The Learnfully screening is truly like no other – we are able to discover an accurate appraisal of your learner’s skill set through two online evaluative sessions. To optimize learner engagement, we establish a strong rapport between learner and educational specialist before proceeding with the screening. Each screening is individualized in nature, yet standardized in administration. Depending on your learner’s needs and struggles, we are able to create a screening to specifically measure, then address, your learner’s current abilities in order to heighten cognizance of your learner’s entire profile. This way, you can understand how your learner learns best, what personality and instructional style works best to maximize engagement and what multisensory, evidence-based programs will develop, strengthen and apply the underlying sensory-cognitive areas of challenge. Areas that our screening explores are:
Reading/Literacy – phonological processing, phonemic awareness, decoding, spelling, sight words, reading fluency, comprehension and written expression
Math – computation, conceptualization, problem solving and word problem skills
Cognition – areas such as processing speed, verbal/visual memory and the like
Executive Functioning – each of the eight levels are measured
Traditional vs. Whole-child Screening Comparison
Traditional Classroom Assessment
Tina does not know how to write her ABCs, so she scribbles during class. This feedback leads to frustrated parents who think that their child is lazy in the classroom. This is because Tina is perfectly capable of writing her ABCs at home. This only increases Tina’s anxiety levels at school which makes her performance worse.
Learnfully’s Whole-Child Screening
Tina is a fluent reader and knows her ABC’s; however, she has undiagnosed auditory processing issues which makes it hard for her to consume auditory instructions. The parents now know that Tina is perfectly capable of completing her tasks when the instructions are written down, versus when delivered auditorily.
In traditional settings conclusions are solely based on the performance, as a result the root cause of the issue is missed and can go unnoticed. This turns into a lost opportunity to find effective intervention that helps them unlock their potential. In this case, just merely changing how the instructions are delivered would have solved the issue for everyone, reduced anxiety and increased confidence which helps Tina’s overall performance in and out of the classroom!
Screening Review & Consultation
The discussion following the screening administration paints a vibrantly clear picture about your learner as a whole. The findings shed light on interests, strengths, areas of need/challenge, differentiated recommendations (programming and short/long term goals) as well as the importance of proactive collaborative efforts with your learner’s ecosystem. We are able to gauge academic, cognitive and social-emotional skills in order to delineate a personalized learning plan that will help your learner not only reach, but realize their strong learning potential. In the screening report itself, we are able to report on the following components:
Relevant background information
Learner strengths and interests
Areas of challenge
Learner Impact (in and out of the classroom)
So now that you have the screening results and recommendations in hand, what’s next? Learnfully Educational Specialists will help secure a plan that will place your learner on the path to confidence and success. We will take care of finding the best fit Educational Specialist in terms of interests, certifications and personality so that you and your learner can start seeing and feeling progress right away! Also, we pride ourselves on proactive communication with the learner’s ecosystem – parents, educators, outside specialists – so we will make sure to maintain collaborative efforts with anyone on your learner’s team in order to provide insight and maintain consistency across all environments. Lastly, if we find that your learner is in need of supplemental support such as speech therapy or comprehensive psychological assessments, for example, we can provide you with the resources and referrals your family needs!
IEPs can be complex and overwhelming, especially when it is your family’s first time experiencing the process. When your learner is struggling to access the content and curriculum in the classroom, they, too, are feeling the layers of stress and feelings of uncertainty. The IEP was created to support learners achieve academic and social-emotional goals as every learner deserves to realize and reach their full potential. Here, we provide an overview of IEPs while fully acknowledging that additional research might be needed for one to fully understand the procedure, follow through, and develop the mindset needed before, during and after an IEP meeting.
What is the purpose of an IEP?
The overall goals of an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) are to set reasonable learning goals for a learner, and to state the services that the school district will provide for the child.
What is in an IEP?
Each IEP must contain specific information, as listed within IDEA, our nation’s special education law. This includes but is not limited to:
the learner’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, describing how the learner is currently doing and how the learner’s diagnosed disability affects his or her involvement and progress in the general curriculum
annual goals for the learner, meaning what caregivers and the school team think he or she can reasonably accomplish in a year
the special education and related services to be provided to the learner by the school district, including supplementary aids and services and changes to the program or supports for school personnel
how much of the school day the learner will be educated separately from neurotypical learners or not participate in extracurricular or other nonacademic activities such as lunch or clubs
how (and if) the learner is to participate in state and district-wide assessments, including what modifications to tests the learner requires
when services and modifications will begin, how often they will be provided, where they will be provided, and how long they will last
how school personnel will measure the learner’s progress toward the annual goals.
Who attends IEPs?
An IEP involves all of the relevant parties in the learner’s educational environment including the caregivers, classroom teacher(s), school psychologist evaluator, relative service providers (speech pathologists, counselor, occupational therapist, learning specialist) and a school administrator as a representative of the school district.
What is the timing of IEPs?
Once an educator or a caregiver requests a psycho-educational assessment, the district typically has 90 days to complete said testing. An IEP meeting must be held within 30 calendar days after it is determined, through a full and individual evaluation, that a learner has one of the disabilities listed in IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and needs special education or related services. A learner’s IEP must also be reviewed at least annually thereafter to determine whether the annual goals are being achieved and must be revised as appropriate and tested triannually if the learner remains in need of an IEP.
How do I follow up?
Your short and long term follow-up steps can depend on the nature and results of the IEP meeting itself. Although we are not advocates, we have participated in many IEPs when caregivers do not sign the documented goals (based on the above) in order to spend time at home digesting the information line by line to make sure they are in full agreement with the proposed services and corresponding timelines. If, after review, you feel comfortable signing off- great! If not, you can certainly follow up, preferably in written form via email, with a list of outstanding questions. It is important to note, however, that the district is not permitted to initiate services until the IEP document is signed by all parties. Once signed, as a caregiver, it is critical to keep the dates of services and applicable goals in mind and follow up if you do not observe progress firsthand. Occasionally, subsequent meetings are required to discuss progress or the lack thereof.
Again, we know that IEPs are intricate, so a good place to start digging deeper into the ins and outs of IEPs is through wrightslaw.com. They provide both an index and a roadmap to IEPs- both extremely useful tools to utilize as resources. As always, if you would like to consult with one of our experienced Educational Specialists, we are more than happy to help however we can. Ultimately, we wish you and your learner success in future IEP meetings and hope that learners are able to achieve their goals in order to build confidence and independence.
We understand how intimidating and/or stressful any meeting concerning your child can be. Here, we hope to reduce your angst by providing a brief overview of what to expect in a 504 Plan Meeting specifically and welcome any and all questions that you may still have following the reading of this article.
What is a 504 Meeting?
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (commonly referred to as Section 504) is a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. Those programs include public school districts, institutions of higher education, and other state and local education agencies. To qualify under Section 504, a student must have a disability and that disability must limit a major life function. The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments of 2008 (ADA) broadened the definition of disability in the ADA as well as in Section 504. The 504 Plan is a plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives accommodations that will ensure their academic success and access to the learning environment.
Each 504 Meeting includes the following participants:
The learner (dependent on age/maturity)
Each member of the 504 Meeting Committee typically provides insight into the learner’s strengths, areas of need, and accommodations (present or future) throughout.
How is it different from a SST? IEP?
We realize how confusing all of the acronyms can be, so fear not – we are here to help!
The SST, Student Study Team, is usually less formal than a 504 or IEP meeting and does involve documentation, but the information discussed is not upheld by the law. So, teachers will delineate recommendations and an action plan within this meeting and will follow through as best they can without repercussions if they are unable to reach a level of compliance. A 504, on the other hand, is a legal document that delineates accommodations and modifications upheld by the law.
The IEP, Individualized Education Program, involves the IDEA (The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act). We will dive deeper into IEP’s next week but generally speaking, the IDEA is less involved in 504s than they are in IEPs. Because of this–and the overarching purpose of 504 meetings–the school does not require measurable growth or specific goals with 504s like it does with IEPs.
How do I best prepare for a 504 as a caregiver?
Prior to the meeting, it is important to do your homework! Prepare a list for the following aspects of your learner’s profile: relevant background information, strengths/interests, areas of challenge, potential solutions for said challenges. If your learner is old enough and/or self-aware, it’s always a good idea to ask them the same questions that you will need to report to during the 504 Meeting. You know how to speak with your child best, of course, just be sure to stress that the purpose of the meeting is to best support their learning needs by providing strategies to help them access their full potential. Your learner should be part of the process one way or another. Sometimes, learners are asked to join the meeting and, therefore, would need to have a discussion with you prior to the meeting anyways. Feel free to review understood.org’s tips about 504s Meetings or having a productive meeting as well!
What happens during and after the 504 Meeting?
During the meeting, bring your notes, work samples, and writing utensils or your device to add to your previously delineated thoughts. Try to maintain a positive outlook before, throughout and after the meeting. Educators typically have your learner’s best interest at heart and want to see he/she/they succeed. Sometimes that means your child needs a little support to realize and reach their goals which is why we adults need to come together to make it happen!
At the conclusion of the team meeting, the facilitator will ask you to sign the notes that they took during the meeting (in person or electronically if you met virtually) and provide you with a copy. Within the notes, they will list the areas that you prepared, relevant accommodations/modifications that they will have tried or will put into place and the next steps which could include a follow-up meeting after a specific number of weeks. Please be sure to read over the team’s takeaways prior to signing the form itself since it is a legal document. Ultimately, all the present parties will also sign the document to substantiate agreement and accountability.
We wish you all of the best in your learner’s 504 Plan Meeting and know that, with the right understanding, preparation, mindset and follow through, your learner will see and feel more successful in their personal learning trajectory and within their school environment!
Welcome to our first of three blogs in our School Meeting Series! Here we will dig into the in’s and out’s of SST meetings so that you, as caregivers or as teachers, are able to maximize your time together throughout.
What is a SST meeting anyway?
SST is an acronym for Student Study Team. The initial SST meeting is typically the first time you have met to discuss a particular concern outside of a parent-teacher conference. Sometimes SST meetings are held in place of a conference because the teacher would like to involve the whole team in the discussion which could run longer than the average time allotted for a caregiver teacher conference. Someone takes notes throughout the meeting so that everyone has endless access to the discussion points.
What is the format of SST meetings?
SST meetings usually last 30-45 minutes (sometimes longer) and include a learner’s caregivers, teachers, and at least one school representative such as the Counselor, Learning Specialist, Program Director, and/or administrator. If your child has received any specialized services in or out of the school environment, other providers are welcomed to attend as well. The SST facilitator starts by collecting or recapping any relevant background information, then moves into strengths and areas that are going well this school year. After each team member has the chance to share, then the facilitator will move into opportunities for growth or challenges the learner is presently facing. After the discussion, the team will provide an overview as to the action plan which includes potential accommodations, modifications, layers of support, and the like. At the conclusion of the meeting, the facilitator will determine the next point of communication whether it be a follow-up SST meeting, the upcoming caregiver-teacher conference, or something of the sort. If a follow-up SST meeting is needed, they are generally held six to eight weeks after the first meeting to allow enough time for the team to gauge how the learner is responding to the documented plan of action.
Is an SST meeting cause for concern?
An SST meeting is usually not a reason to feel anxious or worried, but we are all human! This is especially true for the first meeting, although I realize it is hard to avoid feelings of angst when entering a team meeting about an area in which your learner is struggling. SST meetings are intended to remain positive and dynamic. Envision them like Think Tanks for your learner to access their full potential with the assistance of their support village!
What if the SST goals are not met?
If the suggestions/ideas do not work well for your learner, then I strongly suggest welcoming a follow-up meeting to further explore reasons as to why your learner might not feel successful or confident within particular areas. Some schools are limited by what they can offer internally, so your learner might require external support to meet the aforementioned goals, which is ok. We all have skills that are in need of development, so why not seek outside support somehow, someway? It is better that you model a growth mindset and positive outlook when your learner starts the path towards independence.
In Conclusion…If you have been asked to attend an SST meeting it simply means the teacher has noticed your learner struggling in a specific area. The educator and their team want to see your child succeed. An SST meeting is an excellent opportunity to create a positive communication link between caregivers and the school, so try to attend the meeting with a good outlook. The school wants to help. Be willing to listen to their ideas and be honest with your own concerns. When working together, clear answers, help for your learner, and a more joyful learning experience will surely follow. For more information on SST meetings, check out one of our favorite resources – understood.org.
Here we are, the school year is underway for most of us and we are approaching the months ahead with as much positivity and hopefulness that we can conjure. As caregivers, we had the opportunity to establish a relationship with our children’s teachers and school teams online last year but at the same time, we had to navigate the layers of pandemic protocols, distance learning, and so much more. Now that we can confidently say that pandemic learning is not going anywhere and we will, most likely, have most of our teacher meetings online this year as a result, we need to further explore ways in which we can connect with our learners’ teams virtually. That way, we are able to maximize opportunities for building rapport and strengthening connectivity in this new normal. Let’s dig into four simple ways that you can nurture a relationship virtually with your child’s team this school year and beyond.
Do Your Homework
Follow these steps to preparing for virtual teacher meetings and interactions this school year:
Review assignments, grades and any progress reports ahead of time.
Before the conference takes place, find an opportunity to sit with your child as he/she does homework in each subject.
Understand their strengths and thought process first-hand.
Delineate questions that come to mind throughout each of the above.
List a few talking points so that you feel more comfortable initiating or maintaining the conversation.
Half of the battle when it comes to almost anything in our life that we perceive as an obstacle is to show up! We spend a good deal of time online and, thus, should try to find ways to engage with our learners’ teams in the same way. One of the first ways to do this is to introduce yourself to your child’s teacher or specialist via email to let them know how excited you are to collaborate with them this year. They can reply when it is convenient to do so and will appreciate the notion. Next, look out for sign-up invites to teacher meetings such as Back to School/Curriculum Nights, Progress Checks, Parent-Teacher Conferences, and the like. Once you officially sign up for a time that works well, show up! I know, I know, it is much easier to NOT go because it is not as noticeable in larger group settings or your life is a juggling act like mine. But showing up sends a strong message to the teacher that being present and involved is important to you and your family as a whole.
Following up shows your learners’ team that you are committed to supporting them and your child as best you can. During the introductory point of contact, ask your child’s teacher how he/she prefers to communicate (email, note, phone calls, etc.). At the conclusion of any discussion, meeting, or Parent-Teacher Conference, remember to ask what the next formal point of contact will be so that you can ensure there will be one. And, of course, gestures of gratitude go a long way as well – thank you emails, handwritten notes, homemade teacher gifts – small tokens of your appreciation can make a huge difference throughout the school year.
Connect Outside of Meetings
This step is not as easy as it once was, let’s be honest. Most schools are not allowing parents onsite, let alone taking field trips. That said, you can still practice finding chances to connect with your children’s teaching team outside of parent meetings. If you happen to be one of the lucky ones who can step foot on campus, maintain consistent, open communication by chatting briefly at drop off and/or pick up. Hey, if your child’s teacher works the car line- perfect! Essentially, it is key to find/think of ways to remain involved like volunteering as a parent helper outside of the classroom doing things such as preparing materials (online or to drop off) for class or scheduling future virtual field trips. Every step you take in an effort to volunteer makes life easier for your child’s teacher so that he/she can spend more time with the learners they love!
In close, try to keep the following principles from the Harvard Family Research Projectin mind for productive and effective communication in every virtual teacher collaborative effort:
Best intentions assumed
Emphasis on learning
Examples and evidence
Respect for all
Dedication to follow-up
As a mother of four children, three of whom are school-aged, I can empathize with the roller coaster of emotions that caregivers and educators are feeling at this time of year. Not only are we faced with the whirlwind that is back-to-school season, but we are still in the peak of a pandemic, which continues to create quite a bit of anxiety in society as a whole. I am torn–on one hand, I am overjoyed that our kids are returning to school in person with their peers after 18 months of distance learning. On the other hand, however, I am terrified for several reasons. I am sure that we are all facing this to some degree. Will our children feel safe? Will our children have the tools that they need to re-engage with their peers? Will learners be able to focus in a classroom while thinking about protocols and risks? Well, we can only control what we can control, so here I will discuss how my family is processing all of these variables in the hope you will find some reprieve in your own journey.
Our kids need structure and routine in their lives, as most kids do. As parents, we are able to perform at our best when we follow a schedule ourselves. To achieve this level of stability, we have created a routine in our family that helps our children feel secure. They know what to expect and when to expect it so they have one less thing to worry about. The timing of their daily activities does not cause them stress or angst. In fact, it creates the direct opposite. Our schedule remains relatively the same every day. From the time that they wake up to the space where they complete their homework, each of our kiddos can breathe a little easier throughout the day. We have learned to create a visual schedule at the start of the school year and a checklist of sorts for their morning/night routine so that they also feel a sense of independence each day. This boost of confidence launches each of our children into feelings of success so that they can approach the day with a layer of bravado and confidence.
As challenging as it is, the importance of modeling positivity, growth mindsets and finding joy are, without a doubt, at the top of our priority list as parents. Children need to feel validated when they experience emotions, no doubt, and they need to see people who they trust counteract those big feelings with optimism. One day, their internal voice will replay the scene or conversation that you had with them when they felt this same way in the past. “What did Mama do when she felt disappointed?” “Mama always says that I am strong enough to handle this.” Whatever the situation, modeling your emotions and sparking a conversation during an organic moment (at the dinner table, while playing a family game, driving in the car, etc.) helps children feel like they are not alone and that what they are facing is expected, thus, relieving any unnecessary stress from the adversity itself (it is stressful enough, right?).
Oof, this one is probably the most difficult of them all. Striking a level of balance between work and play, serious and lighthearted, excitement and calmness take quite a bit of reflection and time. My partner and I have had many conversations about this element of our family (and personal) life. We want our children to grow up with appropriate expectations of themselves, to live life to the fullest, and to work towards their goals wholeheartedly. As caregivers and educators, we are the first ones to let go of our self-care because the nature of our roles in life are selfless. Without balance in our own lives, it is nearly impossible to establish balance in our children’s lives. Even if you only have ten minutes a day to yourself, you are then better equipped to handle challenges as they come your way and you are better able to model balance and positivity now when our children need it the most.
Yes, our children deserve an education and yes, our children need socialization. In order for them to maximize the time that they have in the classroom this year, they also deserve and need structure, tools, validation, and balance. This is your calling, your chance to reframe this back-to-school season as an opportunity to set your learners on the path to victory by providing these layers of support at home and beyond.
And they’re off! Most of our children have returned to the classroom after much anticipation and are now faced with socializing with (some new, some familiar) peers without much practice for the past 12 to 18 months. We thought it only right to provide you, caregivers and educators, with some quick tips and reminders as to how to reshape social skills, collaborative play, and social problem-solving in your learners after a potential hiatus!
Review: Social Emotional Learning
First, let’s review the five key SEL components of social-emotional learning that the majority of educational environments do a brilliant job of addressing all school year long.
Self Awareness–to consider your own thoughts and emotions, and understand how they impact others.
Self Management–the ability to regulate and control your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.
Responsible Decision Making–to consider consequences, know capabilities and seek help as needed.
Relationship Skills–ability to make positive connections and sustain healthy relationships.
Social Awareness–ability to empathize, take perspective, understand the impact on others and act accordingly.
Even before the pandemic, SEL was a major focal point in classrooms nationwide. Learners require repetition and constant review, especially at the beginning of the school year, so it makes sense to start here, lay the foundation. Then, tap into the next resources as mediums to develop each of these skills in your learners.
Books as Activators
Stories and narratives are the perfect tools for modeling social norms as they are not only engaging, dynamic, and colorful, but they also take the pressure off of learners. This way, you can spark a discussion through these ideal conversation starters that, then, leads learners to reflect and to make connections. For learners who need more explicit, direct modeling in socialization, Carol Gray’s Social Stories are phenomenal tools for accomplishing this goal! By definition, “Social Stories are a social learning tool that supports the safe and meaningful exchange of information between parents, professionals, and people with autism of all ages.” Gray has created such brilliant, simplistic stories for learners (not solely for those on the Autism Spectrum) who benefit from step-by-step directions as to how to initiate conversation, ask for help, and so forth. Our learners who are feeling overwhelmed with socializing now or at any point, have books to guide them through these challenging situations.
Incorporating movement and acting adds an element of fun that some learners are more likely to retain and hold onto, so why not act it out? PBS Conflict Resolution includes a few engaging methods for role-playing a variety of social obstacles. Modeling a diversity of scenarios and responsible solutions to each problem will help children feel more equipped to handle obstacles on their own in the future. When learners, then, encounter a similar scenario that they have already acted out, they will be able to tap into their memory as a resource and feel more comfortable and, thus, confident to embrace the challenge as an opportunity to grow. When in doubt, we can always teach our kids to ask for help. Role-playing when, why, and how to seek support is of great benefit!
Play Dates are Back!
What is a playdate? Some of us are asking just that, it has been so long since some of our children have enjoyed time with their friends outside of school or while being socially distanced. Taking the proper safety precautions is still necessary, of course, but hosting playdates in a secure way allows you to facilitate and model social problem solving and collaboration. Be prepared for your children to feel a bit lost and unsure as to what to do since they have been without this level of social stimulation for quite some time. Inspire creativity, ignite imagination, orchestrate games – providing several options for engagement can ease kids into play and relieve some of the stress that they might feel having to generate ideas on their own. Check out USA Today’s article, “6 ways to create fun, healthy playdates for kids during the pandemic” for more guidance.
At the end of the day, children learn a lot about themselves through play and social interaction. As trusted adults in their lives, it is our responsibility to support them socially and by allowing them access to tools such as books, role-playing activities, and fun-filled playdates, we are setting them up for success socially and emotionally!
It’s that time of year again, back to school season, when we send our learners to a new classroom full of possibilities. For some, that means immediate feelings of excitement and intrigue, while others are full of worry and angst. There are steps that you, as caregivers, can take in order to help ease your child back into all that the school year will hold – most involve establishing structure and routine that they can depend on before and after school. Let’s dig into some simple steps that we can all take (this mom of four included!) to set our children and ourselves up for success all year long!
Schedule, Schedule, Schedule
We all know how hard it can be to remain consistent and loyal to a set schedule and completely understand that there are times when we must veer from the plan. That said, we strongly encourage you to create a visual schedule for your kiddos for the week as a whole as well as each individual day so that everyone in your family knows exactly what to expect. This sense of security relieves a bit of tension as your learners head into each day/week which means they are much more likely to embrace the school day. I have also found that having a morning routine checklist by the door helps build their feelings of independence, strengthens their Executive Functioning, and alleviates that anxiety you feel every morning as you rush out of the door. Hey, you could even post one for the afternoon/evening routine too, why not? Check out these sampleschedules and a morning routine checklist and feel free to make them your own!
Praise & Incentivize
Always (and I mean always) start with the positive, find something to praise your learner for prior to giving feedback or suggestions. Research substantiates this notion that children are more receptive to your insight when they feel heard and seen first. Give them a little boost of self-confidence and self-worth by pumping them up first so that they are more willing to follow through with some of the challenges that come their way academically or social-emotionally. Sometimes our learners also need a little physical encouragement such as a high five or a pat on the back (cue our blog on The Five Love Languages!). If all else fails, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a good ol’ fashion incentive system such as a sticker chart or the like. Earning a little extra screen time or tallies towards bigger rewards down the line can fuel some learners’ fire towards completing their homework and approaching each day with the mindset that they need to thrive!
Clear Space, Clear Mind
Clearing your learner’s homework space and creating a clutter-free nook can also clear their minds so that they can fully engage with the work that comes home each day. Visual noise is real, I speak from experience. Even if you or your learners are not aware of how disorganization is negatively affecting your ability to sustain attention, I promise it does to some extent. Establishing a reliable workspace, then mentoring your learner to maintain the organization provides them with the upper hand cognitively, so that they can spend their energy where it is needed – learning! For some inspiration, check out The Spruce’s list of ideas! Also, quick tip – your learner can help set up their desk with supplies that they might need each afternoon while doing their homework to further develop their planning and organizational skills. As an aside, please make sure that they have a folder strictly for carrying their homework back and forth from school, you’d be surprised how many times they don’t!
Communication is Key
Keeping open lines of communication with your learner and their teaching team can prevent surprises and, thus, unnecessary stress down the line. Helping your kiddo feel comfortable talking with you and their educators can create channels of trust and stability that allow them to seek support and guidance when they need it the most. By modeling how to speak with adults and their peers during casual, organic moments such as at the dinner table or driving in the car, you are putting your child on a positive path to lean into discomfort and secure their social-emotional health at the same time.
As expert Barbara Colorso believes, “Our children are counting on us to provide two things: consistency and structure. Children need parents who say what they mean, mean what they say, and do what they say they are going to do.” Whether it is a visual schedule, a colorful chart, or some fun desk organizers – every step you take to set your family up for success will not go unnoticed. Sometimes, all it takes is for you, the caregiver, to get excited about a new process or system, for the trickle-down effect to come alive!
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